Water Currents: COVID-19 and Water Utilities

This third special issue of Water Currents on COVID-19 contains links to recent studies and reports that discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on water utilities. Across the globe, USAID is supporting countries affected by COVID-19. USAID’s priority approaches include long-term support to maintain continuity of WASH services.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a financial crisis for water utilities as many of these service providers face drastic cuts in revenue and rising costs due to the pandemic. One report in this issue states that a survey by the Water Service Providers Association of Kenya found revenue collection down by 70 percent among its members.

Water and finance experts are concerned that, if not addressed, the consequences of utility deficits will reverberate long after the virus subsides. Inadequate utility revenue and national financial distress could jeopardize the advances in drinking water access that have been made in recent years.

This issue contains recent studies, reports, blog posts, and webinars that discuss water utilities and COVID-19 on a global, regional, and country basis.

In Focus

USAID Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Strategic Approach to COVID-19 ResponseUSAID, April 2020. This document provides a comprehensive overview of USAID's strategic approaches to WASH within the context of COVID-19 across health, emergency, and longer term recovery programming.

Utilities in Developing Countries, in Financial Tailspin, Try to Keep Water Flowing During Pandemic and BeyondNew Security Beat, June 2020. The global coronavirus pandemic is precipitating a financial crisis for water utilities in low- and middle-income countries as many of these service providers face drastic cuts in revenue and rising costs to respond to the public health emergency.

Supporting Water Utilities During COVID-19World Bank, June 2020. This blog post links to reports and tools which discuss challenges faced by water utilities during the pandemic.

COVID-19: A Utility Leaders’ ResponseInternational Water Association (IWA), May 2020. This online discussion brings together water utility leaders to share their perspectives, experiences, and response to COVID-19 challenges, the lessons being learned in adapting to a changing situation, and the main messages they are communicating to their customers.

The Unsung Heroes of the COVID-19 PandemicWaterAid, June 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention across the world to the vital roles of key workers such as those employed in health care and sanitation. This article highlights the daily dangers sanitation workers, who are often doing their jobs with minimal protective equipment, faced prior to the coronavirus and how the pandemic has exacerbated these working conditions.

What Water and Sanitation Operators Can Do in the Fight Against COVID-19Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA), March 2020. Water and sanitation service providers (small-scale providers, utilities, and local authorities) can be instrumental in stalling the advance of COVID-19. Public utilities should work closely with local health officials and other relevant bodies to launch awareness campaigns about COVID-19 transmission.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Considerations for the Waste and Wastewater Services SectorCase Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, May 2020. This article discusses the potential ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on waste and wastewater services, focusing on critical points where alternative operating procedures or additional mitigation measures may be advisable.

COVID-19 Emergency Response: Monitoring and Mitigating the Secondary Impacts of the COVID-19 Epidemic on WASH Services Availability and AccessUNICEF, March 2020. Countries will experience secondary impacts on WASH services in different ways, depending on the underlying strength of their economy and social services, the type of measures taken to contain the virus, and the duration of the crisis. This brief describes those potential secondary impacts and suggests monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Utilities Under Crisis: Moving from a ‘Just in Time’ to a ‘Just in Case’ Scenario Will Require Partnership and SolidarityGWOPA, June 2020. While some water and sanitation operators have been able to rapidly mobilize resources, draw on expertise, and respond effectively to crises, most have faced challenges keeping staff safe, maintaining service quality, and ensuring services for vulnerable communities.

COVID-19: A Water Professional’s PerspectiveIWA, May 2020. This online panel discussion gathered experts in water and sanitation from across the globe to address some of the most pressing questions for water professionals. The event focused on addressing the impacts of the virus for the water sector.

Water Security Beyond COVID-19K4D, April 2020. The pandemic could increase developing countries' and development partners’ focus on water and WASH and trigger transformational change in some countries.

The Financial Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on U.S. Drinking Water UtilitiesAmerican Water Works Association, April 2020. The results of the assessment indicate that the aggregate financial impact of COVID-19 on drinking water utilities will likely be approximately $13.9 billion, representing an overall 16.9 percent financial impact on the drinking water sector.

Water and Sanitation in Uganda: Two Months When the World ChangedWater Blog, June 2020. This article discusses the Ugandan National Water and Sewerage Corporation’s attempts to provide services during the pandemic.

Water Utilities Fight COVID Interview Series: eThekwini Municipality, South AfricaGWOPA, April 2020. As part of an interview series to gather information and raise awareness of how water utilities are addressing the crisis, GWOPA/UN-Habitat spoke with Ednick Msweli, head of the Water and Sanitation Unit at eThekwini Municipality, South Africa.

Caribbean Water Utilities: COVID-19 Impact and ResponsesSmart Water Magazine, May 2020. In partnership with the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, the company Miya Water organized a webinar to discuss how the Caribbean countries, and particularly the water industry, are weathering the challenges of COVID-19.

Monitoring Sewage/Wastewater
COVID-19: Sewage Monitoring for Public Health. IWA, June 2020. Sewage monitoring for coronavirus has the potential to alert public health authorities to potential outbreaks. The goal of this webinar is to advance the common understanding of how surveillance results can be used, and harmonize approaches and methods toward a global use for wastewater surveillance of COVID-19. The panel discussed the challenges of using surveillance data and the need for and likely benefit of standardizing approaches, especially given the need for international sharing of findings.

SARS-CoV-2 Known and Unknowns, Implications for the Water Sector and Wastewater-Based Epidemiology to Support National Responses Worldwide: Early Review of Global Experiences with the COVID-19 PandemicWater Quality Research Journal, May 2020. This article provides a brief summary of the history of pathogen wastewater surveillance to help set the context for the COVID-19 wastewater-based epidemiology programs currently being undertaken globally.

WASH Services for Informal Settlements
COVID-19: WASH in Vulnerable Communities. IWA, May 2020. The panel discussion explored alternative and innovative WASH measures and also discussed activities related to providing new handwashing facilities, implementing behavioral change programs, training and capacity building, and community mobilization.

Interim Technical Note on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for COVID-19 Response in Slums and Informal Urban SettlementsUN-HabitatUNICEF, May 2020. This document provides additional information for both formal and informal WASH institutions (including public and private) that are working to address the WASH needs of the most marginalized populations in informal settlements.

Water for the Urban Poor and COVID-19K4D, May 2020. Water utilities may be unable to recover costs through user tariffs during COVID-19, which could have implications for their financial sustainability. Poor service provision prior to and during a crisis can impact customers’ willingness to pay for water, further reducing utilities revenues and creating a vicious cycle.

Websites/Online Meetings
Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance – GWOPA is an international network created in 2009 to support water operators through Water Operator’s Partnerships. These partnerships serve as peer support exchanges between two or more water operators, carried out on a not-for-profit basis with the objective of strengthening operators’ capacity and performance to provide a better service to more people.

International Water Association – Drawing professionals from more than 140 countries, the membership of the IWA brings together scientists, researchers, technology companies, and water and wastewater utilities.

Water Utility Resources for the COVID-19 PandemicEnvironmental Protection Agency. These resources were compiled to support preparedness planning across the drinking water and wastewater sector, including materials on how to maintain adequate staffing and laboratory capacity.

USAID Community Meeting on COVID 19’s Impacts on Global WASHUSAID, April 23, 2020. This webinar includes discussions with leaders from USAID’s Water Leadership Council on global WASH–specific challenges, impacts, and responses.

USAID Responding to COVID-19’s Impact on Resilience and Food SecurityUSAID, May 2020. The USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security created this page to provide information and resources related to USAID’s long-term food security and nutrition response through Feed the Future, and its work to ensure safe and sustainable access to WASH through Water for the World.

WASH & COVID-19 Resources - On this web page, the Globalwaters.org team will share the latest resources from USAID and select sectors that cover COVID-19 and WASH.